The Welsh Government's moratorium on the building of roads in Wales will begin a cultural shift away from the car and towards more sustainable alternatives, according to deputy climate change minister Lee Waters.

As reported yesterday by The National, the decision means plans for new roads will be frozen for the time being while an independent panel conducts a transport review.

Road projects that are already under way, such as the widening of the A465 Heads of the Valleys road in the south east, will continue.

In the Senedd, Waters said that in order for Wales to cut emissions and achieve climate-change targets "we need to shift away from spending money on projects which encourage more people to drive, and [instead] invest in real alternatives which give people a meaningful choice".

But the government's plans were criticised by some opposition Senedd members, who said the ban would impact businesses and some communities who had been promised new roads but now faced an uncertain future and a continuation of their towns' congestion problems.

The moratorium on new road-building marks the first significant action by the nation's new climate change super-ministry, which has brought together responsibilities for things like housing and transport into one broad environmental portfolio – and suggests the move away from cars and towards public transport will feature heavily in ministers' plans for this five-year Senedd term.

Last week, Mark Drakeford published his party's Programme for Government, which included a pledge to make 45 per cent of all journeys in Wales made by "sustainable modes" of transport by 2040.

Waters has in the past few days ended 26 years of planning protection for the proposed M4 relief road route around Newport. The project was scrapped by the first minister in 2019, with the government opting to invest instead in improving the public transport network in and around the city.

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Waters said the lessons from Newport could serve as "a blueprint for other parts of Wales" which had traffic problems but currently only one proposed solution – the construction of new roads.

Welsh Conservative MS Natasha Asghar said the government's ban on new roads would have been met with "dismay and disappointment" from businesses and motorists.

She told the Senedd Labour had "failed to build an adequate road network" during its 22 years in power and had "kicked into the long grass" various highways projects.

Investment in roads would "boost the overall capabilities of the Welsh economy," Asghar added.

Waters said he "flatly disagreed" with the Tories' argument that congestion could be solved by road-building.

A cross-party committee had, during the last Senedd term, recommended Wales stop building roads in favour of maintaining existing ones, he added.

Plaid Cymru MS Delyth Jewell was more supportive of the plans. She welcomed the "opportunity to build a nation to benefit future generations" but said it was "vital" that communities who had long waited for investment in infrastructure were "not left behind".

The deputy minister acknowledged the government's plans did not cover "easy issues" and would, in some cases, "throw up tensions".

The plans "can only work if we show people there's a better alternative," he added. "We need to make the right thing to do the easiest thing to do".

Fellow Plaid MS Cefin Campbell told the deputy minister he agreed with "the main principles" of the government's plans but was disappointed that work on a Llandeilo bypass would cease.

He said people in the Carmarthenshire village had been "crying out for over 50 years" for a solution to their traffic and pollution problems.

The main road there "was originally planned for horses and carts, not HGVs, buses and coaches," he told the Senedd. "I accept we need to take a step back [from road-building]... but a Llandeilo bypass isn't a new project".

Campbell said the Welsh Government had agreed to fund the bypass in 2016, but recently work was postponed until 2025.

"Today's announcement is a further letdown," the Plaid MS added.

Waters said the government had to take "a consistent approach" that couldn't make an exception for Llandeilo, and that work on the current stage of the WelTAG assessment – the government's transport appraisal process – would be allowed to continue.

Where there are air-quality cases for building new roads, Waters said he expected the review panel to note them.

Meanwhile, Welsh Conservative Mark Isherwood said there had been previous government promises to develop new roads, including a new Menai Strait crossing.

"How watertight are the pledges today?" he asked the deputy minister.

Waters said the need for that road project had changed following the scrapping of plans for a nuclear power plant on Anglesey.

Away from the Senedd, the moratorium has been welcomed by Wales' future generations commissioner, Sophie Howe, who recommended in a 2020 report that the government stop building new roads.

Responding to Waters' announcement, she said an "over-reliance on the car" had led to "increased noise, poorer air quality, time wasted in traffic and an unacceptable burden on communities living near our most congested roads".

Howe called for "an affordable, integrated, reliable, efficient and low carbon public transport network, that’s connected to things like healthcare, in rural areas especially, and housing, with safe and easy access to walking and cycling".

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